158. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Communism, Cuba and Caribbean Security
- President Kennedy
- Ambassador Charles R. Burrows
- Assistant Secretary of State Martin
- Assistant Administrator of AID Moscoso
- Mr. Ralph Dungan, The White House
- President Villeda Morales of Honduras
- Honduran Ambassador to the United States and the OAS Celeo Davila
- Honduran Foreign Minister Alvarado Puerto
- Honduran Finance Minister Bueso Arias
The conversation was long and involved.
President Villeda Morales made the following points:
United States efforts leading to withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba were magnificent, but there is no way to be sure whether or not underground bases still threaten hemispheric security and peace. In the Cuban crisis Honduras offered facilities in accordance with its obligations under the Rio Treaty and the decision of the Council of the OAS.2 The United States can always rely on unlimited Honduran cooperation.
The problem of Cuba and security transcends nuclear arms and purely military operations. Every Communist is dangerous. Cuba directly affects all the small nearby countries. These countries must develop socially and economically to offset Marxist propaganda. Communism will be no menace if countries are ruled democratically, and if assistance under the Alliance for Progress is forthcoming.
It would be suicidal for the Communists to take over a Central American Government, because they could not isolate a mainland country as they did Cuba. The Communists recognize this. Also, it is easier to generate instability from outside a Government than from within. Hence, the Communists are not interested in taking over any Central American Government, and the menace of communism is not imminent in the region. It is a mistake to ascribe to the Communists disturbances such as the recent one in Guatemala, since this exaggerates their truly limited power.
In Honduras communism is in a state of lethargy and communism is weaker than in any other Central American country. This is because the Government profoundly believes in human dignity and the elimination of repressive measures.
The constitution forbids participation by non-democratic parties in elections. Eighty per cent of the electorate supports the present administration. Communists are kept under close control. Five years ago they generated street fights, but since then their activities have dwindled. They are no danger in Honduras.
The situation may be different in other Central American countries, and what affects one affects all.
Villeda introduced the possibility of a Caribbean force, and likened “Operacion Fraternidad” to a group of firemen ready to answer an alarm. However, an alliance of armies (which would be used against guerrilla or insurgent groups) should be preceded by creation of a civilian [Page 333] force. This two-stage establishment of forces should not be revealed to the Communists. Villeda noted that three years ago he met Presidents Lemus of El Salvador, Yd#goras of Guatemala and Somoza of Nicaragua, and suggested the creation of a civilian security system to fight communism.
The question of an army to defend the democracies can be raised in Honduras, preferably after the elections. In this connection, it was suggested that an air base be built near San Pedro Sula.
Relations between the Central American Governments are propitious for the discussion of a joint military force. The situation should remain good after the Nicaraguan election in February, 1963. Villeda believes he can coordinate such an effort. He said the other Central American Governments had “indicated their confidence in his ability to reflect the common hopes and ideals of them all”.
President Kennedy made the following points:
Castro is still an aggressive element. President Kennedy has been considering creation of a Caribbean force which could be used against guerrilla or insurgent groups. President Villeda’s reference to such a force mentioned in connection with “Operacion Fraternidad”, is interesting. President Kennedy hoped Villeda would continue to think of a joint force or army. Care must be taken to see that it would not support dictatorships (e.g., Haiti), and that it would not appear to interfere in elections. Possible Communist gains in turbulent Guatemalan elections would tempt such interference. The force would have to be established within the framework of the OAS to avoid the stigma of “U.S. imperialism”. An example of successful joint action is that taken by the United States, Colombia and Venezuela to prevent a Communist take-over in the Dominican Republic following Trujillo’s death.
The United States will study the matter of common military action with the Central American Republics, and will keep in touch with Villeda.
President Kennedy cautioned Villeda, saying experiences with Jagan, the Chinese and Castro demonstrate that Communists frequently take over a Government in the guise of enlightened, democratic, revolutionary leaders, and not as Communists per se.
It is essential to recognize that present Hemisphere problems pit the Hemisphere and the United States against communism, and are not just reflections of bilateral conflict between the United States and Castro. Should Castro convince people that the matter is purely bilateral, he will draw greater sympathy, and the eradication of the Communist menace will be more difficult.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.15/11-3062. Confidential. Drafted by Edward M. Rowell of the Office of Central American and Panamanian Affairs and approved by the White House December 28. The source text is marked “Part 1 (of 7).” The meeting was held at the White House.↩
- Reference is to a resolution approved by the OAS Council on October 23 calling for the withdrawal from Cuba of all missiles and other offensive weapons and recommending that member states take all necessary measures to ensure that Cuba could not continue to receive Soviet military supplies and to prevent the missiles from becoming an active threat. (OAS doc. OEA/Ser.G/III/C-sa-463 (1); also printed in Department of State Bulletin, November 12, 1962, pp. 722-723)↩